Category Archives: Plants

The Flower of Newfoundland

Pitcher plant flower at Markleysburg Bog (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Pitcher plant flower at Markleysburg Bog, PA (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Just as we have State Flowers in the U.S., there are official flowers for each of the provinces of Canada.  The Flower Emblem of Newfoundland & Labrador is the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea).

Sarracenia purpurea is a carnivorous wetland plant whose leaves collect rainwater because they’re shaped like pitchers. The plant gets its nutrients from digested insects and spiders that drown in the water, unable to escape the leaves’ downward-facing hairs.  Only about 1% of the insects that visit the pitchers become victims but it’s enough to sustain the plant.

Pitchers of a pitcher plant at the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Pitchers of a pitcher plant at the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The prey is not digested by the plant but by larvae of two specialist insects that live in the pitchers’ rainwater:  the pitcher plant mosquito (Wyeomyia smithii), which doesn’t bite us(*), and the pitcher plant midge (Metriocnemus knabi).  The nutrients the larvae leave in the water nourish the plant.

Purple pitcher plants tend to grow clumps. When in bloom they stand 8-20 inches tall.

Pitcher plants at the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Pitcher plants at the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

You’ll find them in bogs across Canada and as far south as Florida.  Dianne Machesney photographed these in Pennsylvania and Ontario.

Range map of Sarracenia purpurea (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Range map of Sarracenia purpurea (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Visit Spruce Flats Bog to see them in the Laurel Highlands.

 

p.s. (*) About the pitcher plant mosquito:  According to Wikipedia, Wyeomyia smithii neither bites nor approaches humans or livestock. However there are some populations in the Apalachicola National Forest (Florida) that have been observed taking blood meals after laying an initial egg batch. It is the only known mosquito to have both obligatory biting and non-biting populations in the same species.

(photos by Dianne Machesney, range map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the map image to see the original)

End of my birding trip to Newfoundland: Day 7, July 14, fly home

 

Bottlebrush

Bottlebrush buckeye flower spike, Schenley Park, 6 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bottlebrush buckeye flower spike, Schenley Park, 6 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) were in bloom at Schenley Park. You can see how the shrub got it’s name from the bottlebrush shape of the flower spike.

Here’s what the hillside near Panther Hollow Lake looks like when the buckeyes are blooming.  They were probably planted shortly after the lake was completed in 1909.

Bottlebrush buckeye bushes in bloom, Schenley Park, 3 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bottlebrush buckeye bushes in bloom, Schenley Park, 3 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

These bushes hid an added bonus: When I stopped to photograph them a wood thrush walked out from them and paused to look at me.

Click here to read more about this native shrub, originally from the Deep South.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)
Historical Information: the first landscape architect of Schenley Park: William Falconer.

Now Blooming: Moth Mullein

Moth mullein (photo by Kate St. John)
Moth mullein (photo by Kate St. John)

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) is blooming now in western Pennsylvania. Though it’s closely related to common mullein it hardly looks alike.

This biennial in the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae) grows a rosette of basal leaves in its first year, then sprouts a flower stalk that grows 1.5 to 3 feet tall in year two.  Its white or yellow flowers bloom from bottom to top.

Native to Eurasia and Africa, moth mullein was first noticed in Pennsylvania in 1818.  It’s not invasive in Pennsylvania but is listed as a noxious weed in Colorado.

Look for moth mullein in waste places and pastures.  It’s not named for what it does, but for what it looks like: A flower that resembles a moth.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Fruit In Transition

Fruit is forming on Large-flowered Bellwort, 29 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fruit is forming on Large-flowered Bellwort, 29 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

In late June the spring flowers are gone and summer flowers haven’t bloomed yet.  I find it hard to identify plants without flowers but this one was rather easy.

The leaves are perfoliate and alternate on the stem.  The six-sided fruit indicates the flower had six parts. The fruit stem pierces the leaf.

Here’s a plant with these characteristics. Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) has six petals and the stems pierce the leaves.

Large-flowered bellwort in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)
Large-flowered bellwort in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

In late June bellwort fruit is still puffy looking.  Eventually it will shrink into three lobes.  Click here to see.

Right now the fruit is in transition.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

A Bee Backs Out

Last weekend in Virginia Beach I saw a bit of black at the tip of a tightly closed yellow flower.

The flower was making a buzzing sound. What next?

As I watched a bumblebee backed out.  In the last photo you can see that she was in the flower upside down.

 

p.s. Do you know what flower this is?  Is it False Foxglove? It was growing in sandy soil by the Long Creek Trail at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Pleated Leaves

False hellebore leaves, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False hellebore leaves, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

In the spring I often see large pleated leaves in the same damp places where skunk cabbage grows. For years I didn’t know what they were and I was lazy.  I couldn’t see any flowers and I wouldn’t wade into the swamp to key it out with my Newcomb’s Guide.

This week Dianne Machesney put me straight. This is false hellebore (Veratrum viride).

False hellebore is blooming this month and now I know why I never saw the flowers from a distance.  They’re completely green!  Six hairy green tepals (petal-sepals) and six stamens with yellow anthers.

Flowers of false hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Flowers of false hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The leaves spiral up the stem. The entire plant, up to six feet tall, resembles hellebore so it’s called false hellebore.

False hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Like all plants in the Veratrum genus viride is highly poisonous.  Deer leave it alone but cattle are sometimes fooled.

Amazingly, some Native American tribes used it as an initiation test. Like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, candidates to be the next leader would ingest false hellebore. According to Wikipedia, the one to start vomiting last would become the new leader.  (Ick!)

Look for false hellebore’s flowers from May to July. After it blooms, the leaves fade.

 

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

Two Goat’s Beards

Goatsbead blooming, Frick Park Nine Mile Run Trail, 1 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goatsbead blooming, Frick Park Nine Mile Run Trail, 1 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are two flowers that couldn’t be more different but they have the same common name: Goat’s Beard.

The Goat’s Beard flower above is Tragopogon dubius, introduced from Eurasia and named for its huge fluffy seed head.  It loves full sun and thrives in poor, disturbed soil so I often see it in former waste places planted with wildflower seed mix.  The flower above was at Lower Nine Mile Run on June 1.

The Goat’s Beard below, Aruncus dioicus, is a native of North America named for its fluffy male flowers. Four to six feet tall, it requires moist rich soil so I usually find it in the forest where a splash of sun breaks through.  Dianne Machesney found this one last week.

Goatsbeard, June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) blooming, June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The flower in her photo doesn’t look very fluffy.  Here’s a possible explanation.

Aruncus dioicus is dioecius — some plants are male, others female.  The male flowers are the showy ones. This showy flower from Wikimedia Commons may be male.

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), June 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), June 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons

Be careful if you tell a butterfly enthusiast that you’ve found Goat’s Beard.  The yellow-flowered Eurasian species is nothing to get excited about but Aruncus dioicus is the host plant for the rare Dusky Azure butterfly (Celastrina nigra).

Two “Goat’s Beards.”  Perhaps even more.

 

(photo credits:
yellow Goat’s Beard flower by Kate St. John
white Goat’s Beard flower by Dianne Machesney
fluffy white Goat’s Beard flower from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original
)

False Indigo

False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), Washington County, PA, 2 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), Washington County, PA, 2 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Here’s a plant you don’t see every day in Pennsylvania.

False Indigo or Indigobush (Amorpha fruticosa) is a shrub-sized member of the legume family (Fabaceae) native to North America.  It normally occurs from south central Canada to northern Mexico but it’s cultivated for gardens and has escaped to the wild in New England and the Pacific Northwest.

Related to leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Illinois Wildflowers describes false indigo as “Leadplant on steroids.”

The escapees have caused problems.  False indigo is easy to grow and it tends to form dense thickets. Since each plant is 4-18 feet tall and even wider than tall, it’s a problem where it’s unwanted. Connecticut and Washington state have listed it as invasive.

False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), Washington County, PA, 2 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa), Washington County, PA, 2 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The flowers are unusual for the pea family. The plant’s 3-8 inch racemes are covered in small purple or dark blue flowers with yellow anthers sticking out.  Unlike normal pea flowers false indigo’s have only one lip, hence the genus name for the plant: Amorpha, meaning formless or deformed.

Its common name is “false” indigo because it produces such a tiny amount of indigo pigment.

See a list of bees and moths that love false indigo and read more about it here on the Illinois Wildflowers website.

Dianne Machesney photographed it last weekend at Hillman State Park in Washington County, PA.  It would be a Life Plant for me.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

An Itchy Lesson

Poison ivy, 3 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Poison ivy, 3 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Summer is the time for itchy things, especially poison ivy.  Here’s a timely lesson about leaves.

Do you know how to recognize poison ivy?  Here’s what makes it different:

  • Only 3 leaflets on the leaf stem. Never extra leaflets.
  • Lower leaves are lopsided; outer edge is longer than inner edge.
  • Leaves have notched edges, not saw-toothed.
  • Center leaf has a long stem. Side leaves have no stems.
  • No thorns at all.
  • Grows either on the ground or as a climbing hairy vine (the “hairs” are rootlets).
  • Its compound leaves are alternate on the main stem; noticeable on the vine. (The 3 leaflets make up a compound leaf.)

The slideshow below illustrates most of these characteristics.

On Throw Back Thursday: Learn more at this vintage article from 2009:  Look But Don’t Touch.

  • Poison ivy always has 3 leaflets, never more than that.

 

p.s. Most animals are immune to poison ivy.  Birds eat its berries. Deer eat the stems and leaves. Ladybugs and flies walk on it without any reaction!

Insects impervious to poison ivy's irritating oil (photo by Kate St. John)
Insects impervious to poison ivy’s irritating oil (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

Color Coded Flowers

Bumblebee at a white honeysuckle flower, 31 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bumblebee at a white honeysuckle flower, 31 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

The air smells sweet this weekend. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is in bloom.

Although it’s invasive, I always enjoy the smell and taste of honeysuckle nectar.  So do bees and moths who are naturally attracted to white flowers.

So why do honeysuckle flowers come in two colors, gold and white?

Honeysuckle flowers, yellow and white, 31 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle flowers, yellow and white, 31 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John).

I decided to watch a bumblebee visit the flowers and see what happened. Though she had plenty of golden flowers to choose from she only sipped at the white ones (above).

Then I looked at the flowers.  Are the gold ones the old ones?

  • The flowers at the tips of the branches (i.e. new growth) are white. The gold flowers are on the older parts of the vine.
  • The buds are white just before they open.
  • The faded flowers are always gold.
  • I found a set of flowers (blooms in sets of 4, two on each side of the stem) where two of the four had been covered by leaves and were inaccessible to pollinators.  The visible flowers were gold, the inaccessible flowers where white.

So the white flowers are new and unfertilized, asking the bees to visit them. The gold flowers are old, already fertilized and beginning to fade.

Honeysuckle is color coded for bees.

 

p.s. Taste?   As a kid I learned to lick a drop of nectar by pulling off a single flower, pinching the stem-end and pulling the pistil out of the bottom.  The nectar beads up as the pistil emerges. Yum!  … I tested a golden flower: Did it still have nectar? yes.

(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE, June 8. 2018:  Further bolstering my pollinated-color theory, I found a flower turning yellow on the same stem with one white and one gold flower.

Three honeysuckle flowers: gold, turning-gold, and white (photo by Kate St. John)
Three honeysuckle flowers: gold, turning-gold, and white, 5 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)